We've had a few cream puffs this week at State Fair, but that hasn't diminished our desire to tell you about cool stuff that caught our eye. We start with some good seats at the ol' ballpark (pictured) and follow up with notes about a Michael Jackson book, a decadent East Side dish, a fun backyard toy, a great loaf of local bread and a cool place to find cheap (and sometimes reliable) merchandise.
Here are a few of our favorite things this week:
Club level seats at Miller Park -- I like the Club level and seats at Miller Park. Sure, they're $40 but when you add the bar, nice bathrooms, better food and wait service, the cost is worth it for a few games each season. I also really enjoy the vantage point, which is up just high enough to see the entire field, but not too far to feel out of the action. --Jeff Sherman
"In the Studio With Michael Jackson by Bruce Swedien (Hal Leonard) -- "I recorded a Mag-Link timecode track on both tapes. ... Of course, the Royer ribbon mic is a very modern version of my beloved classic mics such as the RCA 44BX and the RCA 77DX." OK, not exactly the kind of insights you were looking for in a $25 paperback book about recording Michael Jackson, but veteran studio man Swedien does have some interesting things to say about the recently departed and self-described King of Pop, from stories of Jackson gawking at a sexy (naked) woman through the studio window to the judgment that Michael had flawless pitch. Despite a sort of tossed-together feel (the discography is mysteriously organized; the second half of the book is about Swedien and the recording process, not about working with Jackson; no one fact checked carefully enough to correct songwriter Rod Temperton's misstatement that "Off the Wall" was Jackson's solo debut -- a distinction that goes to 1972's "Ben"), Swedien was so deeply involved in creating "Off the Wall," "Thriller," "Bad" and other Jackson discs that fans won't want to miss what he has to say. Even if sometimes, it's a little technical and jargon-y. --Bobby Tanzilo
Poutine at Red Dot -- I'm a firm believer that, once in a while, you must get insanely decadent, throw caution to the wind and eat or drink something that you might regret later. When in this mood, the poutine at Red Dot, 2498 N. Bartlett Ave., always makes the short list of possible indulgences. This French Canadian dish features crispy French fries topped with melted Wisconsin cheese curds and homemade gravy. It's also available with vegetables, turkey, chicken or Canadian bacon. A small order is $5 and a large one is $6.50. Try it. --Molly Snyder Edler
Cheap crap from China on eBay -- No, I'm not kidding. Sometimes when you value price over quality, you can find some super-amazing deals on items shipped from Hong Kong. Case in point: a windshield mount for my iPhone, I found it on eBay for $5. A Motorola stereo Bluetooth hands-free headset, $20 (though it might be counterfeit, but it works fine). USB card reader --$3. Or maybe a funky retro watch for $15. The downside is that these take a long time to show up; up to a few weeks. But if you're buying something on a lark, something that you wouldn't be heartbroken to discover it doesn't work as well as its domestic equivalent -- that's priced at least three times as high, give Chinese eBay crap a try. --Andy Tarnoff
Blitzball -- I'm not really sure how they found me, but a PR firm sent me a sample of the Blitzball and I took it for a spin in the back yard. It's basically a Wiffle ball on steroids. The design reduces wind resistance for speed and curving action. It's as good as advertised. You get four balls for $11.99. Check the Web site for info and a cool video. Check it out before the summer gets away from you. --Drew Olson
Honey whole wheat bread from Breadsmith -- There are many, many breads available today. But the honey whole wheat from Breadsmith is dominating my toaster these days. It's 100 percent whole grain, without additives or preservatives and just chewing enough so that it's ideal for toasting or just eating plain. I pick it up at the Public Market for $4.50 per loaf. --J.S.
"Hung" -- I had low expectations for HBO's new dark comedy, "Hung," but the first four episodes, including a one-hour series premiere, intrigued me enough to keep watching. The show -- which airs on Sunday nights -- is centered around Ray Drecke (Thomas Jane), a former jock who peaked at a young age and then watched his life slide downhill. His wife (Anne Heche) of 20 years left him, he doesn't understand his kids, his house burned down and he doesn't earn enough money as a Detroit high school coach. So, after a hotel-based motivational seminar, Drecke decides his most lucrative asset is dangling between his legs and he tries to penetrate the world's oldest profession. Jane Adams softens the scenario as Tanya, a lonely poet in an unfulfilling corporate job who becomes Drecke's pimp. The characters make "Hung" at least as captivating as Showtime's "Californication." --M.E.
The Mineshaft -- An assignment Wednesday morning took me to Hartford, and I drove past the legendary (and huge) Mineshaft bar and restaurant at 22 N. Main St. I've only been to the place a couple times years ago, but I remember having a good meal and enjoying a really good vibe. Driving by the building on a sunny summer morning made me want to check it out again. It's a bit out of the way for me, but I'll make it there before fall. --D.O.